TechWhirl: Technical Communication Recap for December 7, 2012

This week’s update on technical communication and the TechWhirl community is supported by Platinum sponsor Madcap & their Ultimate Communications Suite, MadPak |

technical communication recapWe’ve noticed an odd little phenomenon as we roll into December here at TechWhirl. In the world of cubicles and coffee breaks, quite a bit of “hurry up and wait” has started to occur. Deadlines for technical communication don’t stop, but the ability to actually achieve them drops precipitously as the month goes on.  We figure there are a lot of people who have to deal with “use or lose it” vacation policies, and they’re just not the types to actually finish their deliverables before toddling off for a mid-week holiday shopping spree.

On the other hand, activity on the email discussion list trends in the opposite direction. If you’re a tech comm tool wonk, this is the week to check for threads—Framemaker, Windows, Word, image manipulation, macros, PDF production… it’s all there, along with a few old familiar faces, and the usual complement of helpful TechWhirlers.

Most of the folks we know in technical communication tend to get antsy if they’re not doing three things at once, and with the SMEs and the boss on year-end hiatus, they find ways to stay busy being a part of the TechWhirl community.  So while you’re waiting for the chance to provide the answer to the toughest tool questions, you can keep busy with tech comm awesomeness  in feature article form.  Ena Arel provides some practical tips on heuristics for documentation usability, and Yehoshua Paul introduces us to pictorial instructions.

If you’re really stuck waiting for a meeting that probably won’t happen until next year, think about what you’d really like to have for the holidays.  Then write it up and submit it to our second annual Dear Santa letter writing campaign. We’ll publish the best of the best through the end of the year, while we take a look back at our favorite articles, the biggest trends, and the most popular polls of 2012.

Have a great weekend!

-The gang at TechWhirl

  Tech Writer This Week for December 6, 2012The year is winding down, and thought leaders in technical communication, content strategy, and user experience still have plenty of points to ponder. It’s a challenging time to be in our field, but it’s also exciting to see how the best of the best continue to build links between fields and experiences that every tech writer can learn from.
 pictorial instructions Pictorial Instructions – What are they Good For?Pictorial instructions are part of instructional design, which is related to technical writing. Studies have shown that most humans have a cognitive preference towards picture based instructions – pictures are easier to understand and remember. Unlike reading, which is a skill that is taught researchers assume that humans learn to understand and follow pictorial instructions through experience and exposure.
  Dear Santa, What I REALLY Want for the Holidays this Year…Admit it, no matter whether or which faith you adhere to, there’s something about the end-of-the-year holidays that gets us all into a dreamy list-making mood. But we’re technical communicators around here, so not only do our wish lists have to be clear and concise, with intuitive navigation and context-sensitive help for the list averse, they also ought to be clever, useful, and downright guffaw-inspiring.
  Technical Communication Poll: Most Intriguing Fields for Tech CommHelping society can produce a wide range of career opportunities every bit as professionally and rewarding as the volunteer side. Much of what we see in “mainstream media” depicts technical communications in fairly limited, stereotypical ways. We don’t have to look far to see a whole range of industries and economic sectors where communication is critical, and technical communicators have tremendous opportunities.
  Tips and Tricks: 10 Heuristics for Evaluating Documentation UsabilityWe aim to produce documentation that is useful to users. That is, we want our users to find the right topics and use them to achieve their goals with the software. I use ten Documentation Usability heuristics, or rules of thumb, to design, evaluate, and course-correct technical content before the ship date. Using these heuristics can help content developers catch most structural errors, and provide insight into the actual user experience with the documentation.

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